Kathy Goodman: Thank you, Lisa Leslie
The L.A. Sparks are fighting hard for a playoff spot as the season winds down. We played the Indiana Fever on Tuesday night and we knew it would be tough. Ticha Penicheiro was nursing a sore knee from our game on Sunday evening, and Indiana is currently No. 1 in the Eastern Conference and looking to defend their Eastern Conference title from last season. The Sparks have been playing tough since the All-Star break, so we were still confident we could get the victory, but the Fever brought their vaunted defense to town. The Sparks played tough all night with seven players, but the Fever got the win, 82-76.
The highlight of the evening, however, was being involved in retiring Lisa Leslie’s jersey at Staples Center. I have been a Sparks season ticket holder since the first WNBA game in 1997, and so I have seen Leslie play throughout her professional career. Even before there was an WNBA, I followed women’s college basketball, and Leslie was all over the college game in the early 1990s. I followed her career from USC to the Atlanta Olympics to the Sparks. The first time I ever met Lisa in person, however, was by happenstance.
I was working in Beverly Hills and had ducked out of my office with a friend to get lunch at Baja Fresh. I was eating my burrito when Lisa Leslie walked in. I worked in the film business at the time and had met a lot of famous people, but at that moment, I looked up and said out loud (and maybe too loud), “Oh my god, it’s Lisa Leslie!” My friend, who knew nothing about women’s basketball (or really about any sports), knew exactly who she was. “Are you going to talk to her?” she prodded me. What would I say? But I also couldn’t imagine being this close to her and not saying something. It was in 2000 and she was, of course, again on the Olympic team. I decided to use that as my hook, screwed up my courage and walked over to her. “Sorry to interrupt your lunch,” I said, knowing I was about to sound like an idiot. “I’m a Sparks season ticket holder, and I just wanted to tell you how great I think you are and to wish you luck at the Olympics,” I gushed. She smiled and said, “Thank you so much!” And then I knew enough to walk away and let her eat her lunch.
I would never have imagined that a decade later, I would be standing at the center of Lisa Leslie Court at Staples Center during an ESPN broadcast, hugging her and congratulating her on her jersey being retired in the rafters of the building as part of a tribute that the team I co-own put together. Some paths are more hidden than others.
There was never a question that Lisa’s jersey would hang in the rafters next to Jerry West’s, Magic Johnson’s, Wayne Gretzky’s. I admit that I wouldn’t have minded if she had taken a few more years to get it there, but I am certainly happy to have had the chance to have been a small part of Lisa’s storied career. In many ways, she embodies everything we want the WNBA to stand for as a league, which is not surprising, since she helped create it. I am not sure there will ever be another basketball player in any city who will be able to wear that No. 9 jersey with the same grace, drive, determination, integrity and accomplishment as Lisa Leslie.
-- Kathy Goodman, co-owner of the Sparks